Text & PHOTOS by Malcolm Maclachlan
Like a lot of people, I’ve wondered what it would be like to own an electric car. And last week I got the chance, though not with a vehicle you’ll ever be able to buy.
BMW hooked me up with an all-electric Mini Cooper - or Mini E - for the week. But, according to the company, this was just a convenient car to turn electric to test out on some consumers and reporters. Two all-electric BMW models will be coming out over the next couple years.
First, the positive. This is an incredibly fun car to drive. It’s super zippy and responsive. The 0 to 60 time probably isn’t all that great - at least eight seconds. But the 30 to 60 is off-the-charts, and it handles incredibly well, making getting through urban streets and highway onramps a breeze.
I also hardly even used the brakes. There is a regenerative braking feature, like a Toyota Prius or other hybrid, but it kicks in the moment you take your foot off the gas. Even at high speeds you’ll quickly roll to a stop if you’re not pushing the pedal. Given how many accidents happen due to people falling asleep at the wheel, this seems like a feature that more cars should have. And, of course, it’s really cute - way cuter than my beat-up old 2001 Prius.
Now the more mixed - my little Prius is like a C-130 cargo plane compared to the Mini-E when it comes to cargo and passenger room. I actually found myself driving more, unable to combine errands because the little two-seat, no-real-trunk car can carry one passenger and little else. I also didn’t really trust the electrical system in my 1915 Craftsman house. Sure, it’s been upgraded, but I got the feeling if I plugged it in every circuit would flip. This is more a reflection on my house than the car, but it still reflects a wider issue of all the upgrades to both the grid and individual homes that will need to be done to support a large fleet. The new BMW electrics will be larger, with more cargo room and up to four adult passengers.
It’s also “mini” like Maurice Jones-Drew, not Lea Michele. As in, it’s pretty heavy for a car of its size. This helps it hug the road, but it’s not as efficient as it could be. The gas Minis are also not the gas sippers they could be, having chosen more power over greater efficiency (did I mention how fun it is to drive?). The battery comes with a 100-mile charge, but a full eight-hour work day was not quite enough to charge it up at the charging station provided in the garage at Park Tower.
My issues with the car, though, are really about personal design choices - I’m pretty much a “point A to point B” person who never really had a fetish for cars, though I can see how this one is really cool. For those who can afford this as a second car, this could be a great option. And given how inherently inefficient and prone to breakdown even hyper-modern internal combustion engines are, the Mini-E will be cheaper to operate than just about any car that uses gas. For myself, though, I think I’m going to wait for something combining lighter materials and a bit more room before I go the all-electric route. Those things could help eliminate the “range anxiety” that many people get driving electric cars - that, or allow for a smaller battery pack.